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Aramaic YEB

Elephantine is an island in the Nile near Aswan, named for its peculiar rock formations resembling (vaguely) elephants. It was the site of an ancient military base which, during the Persian empire and evidently much earlier, was manned by Jews. Papyri from Elephantine preserve some details about these Hebrew soldiers and their daily life, to the extent that individual owners' names can be associated with excavated houses.

What most distinguishes Elephantine from other Jewish enclaves abroad is its temple (actually more nearly resembling the Tabernacle described in the Torah than the Temple in Jerusalem.) This building, which has also been excavated, should not be imagined as a mere synagogue; it had priests who performed animal sacrifices. Nor did it represent a pagan or syncretist cult; the papyri include correspondence between the authorities of the Jerusalem and Elephantine temples. A number of scholars have suggested that such temples were common in Judah and Israel before the time of Josiah and his "centralising reforms." The temple at Arad is another example.

The Elephantine temple was destroyed in 410 BC, apparently at the instigation of the priests of Khnum, the local deity. It was rebuilt soon afterwards. The date of its final abandonment is unknown. Some people have suggested a connection between Elephantine and the Ark of Axum.

Norman Hugh Redington

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